‘Opaque laws, erratic application of rules and lengthy bureaucratic processes cost lives during a humanitarian response'
CIVICUS speaks with Jeremy Wellard, Regional Representative for Asia of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA).ICVA is a global civil society network that advocates for principled humanitarian action, enhanced recognition of the vital role of civil society by governments and international organisations, and high-quality partnerships among humanitarian stakeholders. Established in 1962 by a small coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) focused on refugees and migration, ICVA has grown into a diverse network of CSOs operating at global, regional, national and local levels. It promotes a rights and needs-based approach and maintains its historical focus on forced displacement while also addressing other areas of concern related to crisis-affected populations.
- What are the immediate needs that civil society seeks to respond to in a humanitarian crisis?
Humanitarian response takes place in the aftermath of natural disasters, conflict or forced displacement of people and is focused on meeting key lifesaving needs, which may include protection, health, water and sanitation, shelter and food, communications, education and livelihoods services. Often imagined as a short-term response to crisis, in fact humanitarian action can continue in some protracted settings for decades. Recent examples from the Asia region include the Nepal earthquake of 2015, the Marawi conflict in the Philippines throughout 2017 and the most recent displacement of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh, beginning mid-2017. In Asia, humanitarian CSO actors are facing a particular set of challenges, particularly when working in countries where strong government leadership is present. In discussing these, it should be noted that perspectives may not always be applicable to humanitarian action in other contexts.
Humanitarian action by civil society generally takes two main forms. On one hand, there is the response by locally based individuals and actors, which are either part of the community, home-grown organisations or organisations already based in the country and delivering ongoing programmes. On the other hand, there is response by international actors seeking to meet needs that cannot be met by existing in-country structures. Because of their proximity to those affected by a crisis, locally based civil society organisations (CSOs) are often first to respond and have the best idea of the critical needs after an emergency. This gives them a unique advantage; however, this very closeness to those affected, and the fact that responding CSOs are often part of these communities themselves, also adds challenges regarding their ability to meet humanitarian needs. International CSOs play a complementary role, supporting and strengthening the work of local actors and, where necessary, delivering services or providing expertise at a scale beyond what most local actors can manage.
- How are challenges in humanitarian response exacerbated when there is contestation of and restrictions in the space for civil society?
Whilst acknowledging that there are many challenges that come with operating within an increasingly diverse humanitarian landscape, particularly due to the changing roles of United Nations (UN) agencies and other actors, it is governments, both as host and donor, who exercise the most influence in curtailing the space for CSOs to operate. For CSOs, these difficulties are often manifested through increasingly burdensome regulatory environments; reduced availability of donor funding; limitation on access to affected populations; provocation and stigmatisation in the media; and in the worst cases, intimidation, threats and attacks on humanitarian actors and infrastructure. In one recent example from Asia, a combination of these factors led to the near-complete shutdown of civil society action in affected areas. In cases where governments remain strong yet access to certain populations is denied due to deliberate government policies or military action, the very core tenets of humanitarian action are challenged by this inability to respond effectively.
The Asia region has recently experienced a growing number of crises where civil society actors have been denied access to a population in need. It is concerning to continue to hear of cases where CSO staff seeking to deliver humanitarian aid are themselves attacked and persecuted for these efforts, forcing CSOs to choose between the safety of their staff or meeting the needs of the communities they are trying to serve.
I would summarise the main challenges currently faced by humanitarian CSOs in three points: the erosion of humanitarian space, negative perceptions of CSO action and uncertain regulatory environments.
Traditionally, humanitarian space has been regarded as a unique space, with protections and advantages enshrined in the humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, neutrality and impartiality. These principles, anchored in international humanitarian law, are recognised by all UN member states, as they have ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and include rules on the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid and the freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel. Humanitarian CSOs work on the understanding that their adherence to humanitarian principles facilitates access and acceptance, allowing humanitarian workers to carry out their work in a protected space, separate from development, environmental, peace and other areas of work.
However, these days there are very few purely humanitarian CSOs. In Asia it is hard to find a CSO delivering humanitarian aid that is not also delivering programmes in areas such as development, rights or disaster risk reduction. A key challenge for these CSOs is having governments understand these dual roles. Adding to this, the complexity of the environment is increasing. For example, there is presently a concerted effort by the UN and World Bank to align humanitarian action more closely with development and peace action. However, this brings associated risks for this principled approach. Within a broadly shrinking space for civil society, we must remain aware that any blurring of the boundaries between humanitarian action and other fields may also threaten to weaken or remove such protections.
Second, a central argument for strengthening CSOs is that humanitarian action is more effective when the complementary capacities of a range of actors are brought to bear. Stronger government leadership does not necessarily translate into better services, particularly where government policies deliberately or otherwise make it difficult for governments themselves to deliver effectively to all people affected by a crisis. Civil society’s actions in a humanitarian space can fill the gaps where services break down or there is insufficient capacity within existing mechanisms. To help explain this to governments and other actors, ICVA promotes the use of the Principles of Partnership, which were developed in 2007 as a means to try and promote understanding of strong, complementary partnerships between all humanitarian actors.
Unfortunately, rather than being seen as a necessary complement to government action, the humanitarian work of CSOs is often seen as an interference or a front for the wide range of religious, political, social and rights agendas CSOs are rooted in. CSOs will argue that when delivering a humanitarian response, they put other considerations aside in order to negotiate access and ensure that services can be delivered. However, CSOs need to acknowledge that governments may not automatically understand or appreciate this critical distinction.
In some cases, the actions of CSOs have given reason for deepening mistrust of motives and in a number of countries the resulting vilification of high-profile CSOs in the media has added public support to government actions to curtail their humanitarian work. CSOs may be specifically targeted due to their closeness to certain populations, their willingness to negotiate access with non-state actors or their perceived alignment to the political or religious views of their donors. In a recent South Asian response, approval of access was initially granted to, and then quickly withdrawn from, a number of faith-based CSOs due to concerns voiced by parts of the government that these organisations had links to what they considered were dangerous or undesirable religious or political groups. In another example, anti-terrorism policies were used as a reason to place CSOs under surveillance, raid offices and intimidate staff. In some cases, governments have refused registrations, cancelled visas and work permits, or evicted organisations entirely.
Finally, it should be noted that a strong regulatory environment can either facilitate humanitarian action or introduce new challenges for CSOs. Often, as regulations are strengthened to limit CSO action in other areas, they also limit flexibility and responsiveness in humanitarian settings. This is particularly so because often government registration or approval processes do not tend to distinguish between different types of CSO action. From a humanitarian perspective, regulation is not necessarily a bad thing if it clarifies how to gain access, but it must be matched with reasonable and responsive triggers for flexibility and speed, and include overall clarity from governments regarding the provision of lifesaving aid. Currently in Asia, as governments develop disaster law frameworks, improve customs and border protections and strengthen visa processes, a wider set of possible restrictions can be brought to bear. Opaque laws, erratic application of new rules and lengthy, bureaucratic government processes, which are frustrating to CSOs at the best of times, cost lives and livelihoods during a humanitarian response. Some actors are working to promote open discussion between CSOs and governments around regulations that may impact on humanitarian action, so mutually agreed checks and balances can to be put into place.
One way in which CSOs in Asia are attempting to address this is by engaging more in disaster preparedness work, alongside government, UN, military and other actors. CSOs tend to have stronger links with governments at local levels, or at the level of national disaster management agencies, than at the political level, and therefore can engage on technical matters. There have been many positive examples in Asia. However, one challenge to engaging primarily at technical level is that a major crisis is always politically charged. Different government ministries will be engaged in these situations, with Ministries of State, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Security and Disaster Management and the Prime Minister’s or President’s office all becoming involved in decision making regarding CSO action. In a recent refugee crisis, the need for CSO action was widely acknowledged, yet opaque and complex criteria for registration of new CSO projects and the involvement of an increasing number of government ministries delayed the delivery of aid significantly. Project approvals were valid for just a few months, processes changed on a daily basis and government directives on approved activities forced CSOs to operate outside their areas of expertise. The unintended result was that the small number of local organisations that had approvals to operate bore the responsibility for delivering more and more projects, with some reports of organisations scaling up over 10 to 50 times in budget and size within weeks. I recall that six weeks into the response, one small organisation that previously specialised in providing long-term psychosocial support to refugees was delivering over 10 different project streams ranging from water, sanitation and hygiene to education, but had received no new funds to perform its core functions.
- What challenges do civil society actors encounter in coordinating with other responders and with government agencies?
In practice, response to even major disasters or crises is now almost always led by national governments. Increasing government leadership in coordination of both national and international humanitarian response can be seen as a positive step, if states have capacity and comply with international law, but also can present new challenges to the independence of humanitarian CSOs. For example, in more extreme cases, some governments are pushing for complete control of disaster relief distribution, requiring increasing portions of financial and material aid to be channelled through their mechanisms and refusing access to CSOs that do not comply. Thankfully this is not yet the norm and, in most cases, governments will model the international system and form some equivalent of a humanitarian country team, disaster management team or similar, including representatives of UN, emergency services, military and other actors. Yet despite their impact and expertise, CSOs are not always seen by governments as necessary contributors and find their opportunities to engage directly with these decision-making forums restricted, particularly at the national level. CSO engagement therefore is relegated through intermediaries such as the UN. ICVA is currently working to promote awareness of the important role of CSO forums of collective representation in national-level coordination mechanisms and there have recently been positive trends of increased CSO representation in some countries, which now need to be modelled and shared as best practice.
- What support does civil society need in responding in such contexts?
There is need for increased dialogue with governments to show how principled humanitarian action in an independent and protected space can be complementary rather than confrontational. Governments by nature tend to represent some parts of the population more than others, and this is more the case when the government is more authoritarian or military-backed, as is often the case in Asia. Humanitarian CSOs, on the other hand, act to serve all parts of the population, particularly those who are excluded due to political, religious or cultural prejudices, intra-communal violence or otherwise.
Ideally humanitarian civil society could work with governments with the Humanitarian Principles and Principles of Partnership as a starting point. For this to happen, states intent on showing strength and reinforcing their sovereignty need to also remember their responsibility to protect all people, citizens or otherwise, in times of crisis. They should not be able to have their cake if they also intend to eat it.
As a network, we are grappling with these issues and would like to learn from CSOs in other sectors facing similar challenges. We are open to ideas, suggestions and collaboration to cope with trends that affect us all in a fast-changing and increasingly complex world.
- Get in touch with ICVA through theirwebsite, or follow @ICVAnetwork on Twitter
CHILE: ‘Migration restrictions do not tackle the causes of migration’
CIVICUS speaks with Delio Cubides, migration legal advisor at the Chilean Catholic Migration Institute (INCAMI), about the situation of migrants in Chile, and the restrictive measures and mass expulsions that took place this year. Founded in 1955, INCAMI is a civil society organisation dedicated to supporting migrants in Chile, including through providing reception services, social assistance, advice on document regularisation, training and support in finding employment.
How did Chile get into its current situation of anti-migrant protests and mass expulsions?
To answer this question, we should place ourselves in the international context, to which Chile is no stranger. Since 2010, there has been an increase in the number of migrants from non-border countries, such as Venezuela and Haiti, which has surpassed the inflow from border countries.
To a certain extent, Chile has been viewed in the region as a country with security and institutional and economic stability, while since 2013 the political, social and economic situation in Venezuela has led to an exponential increase in the inflow of people from that country, with a peak in 2013 and another in 2018, despite the fact that, unlike Haitian migration, there is no family reunification visa for Venezuelans in Chile.
Faced with this increase in migration, the current administration of Sebastián Piñera began to adopt restrictive measures; 30 days after taking office in 2018, it enacted a policy aimed at limiting the entry of Haitians and Venezuelans. Haitian migration was heavily restricted by the implementation of a simple consular tourist visa for entry into Chile and, like other migrants, also by the elimination of the work contract visa.
Although we do not have exact figures, we know that the rejection rate for consular visas requested by Haitians has been high; testimonies from Haitian migrants that we deal with in our offices report numerous rejections for reasons beyond their control or due to requirements they are unable to comply with.
For example, in order to grant a permanent stay permit to migrants already present in Chile, the government requires a criminal record certificate that must be obtained from the consulate of the country of origin. In the case of countries such as Haiti, the high cost and lengthy processing time in the country of origin is compounded by the fact that, in the current political, social and health context, the certificate is almost impossible to obtain. As a result, many people are unable to submit it within the established deadlines. This requirement is currently limiting access by hundreds of people of Haitian origin to the so-called ‘extraordinary regularisation process’.
For migrants from Venezuela, a consular visa requirement known as a ‘democratic accountability visa’ was imposed in 2019. But the desperate situation in Venezuela continued to push people to migrate despite the obstacles, as migration restrictions do not address the causes of migration.
What these measures did not achieve, the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic did: in November 2020 the government suspended around 90,000 visa procedures for Venezuelan applicants, and many others who had already been granted their visas or had their final interview scheduled could not enter Chile because the suspension of international flights prevented them from doing so within the 90-day period established by law; therefore, their applications were administratively closed without any consideration for the pandemic situation.
Many people have filed amparo appeals – writs for protection of constitutional rights – and have managed to have their cases reopened, but Chile has clearly opted for a strategy of restriction. All these measures were taken to regulate and control a migratory flow that was growing, but many of us see it as a reflection of the lack of empathy for the humanitarian reality that these people are going through in their countries of origin. Many of them had requested protection or were in the process of reuniting with their families, and their projects were cut short either by the pandemic or by administrative restrictions.
Is Chilean society polarised around the issue of migration?
I don’t see such polarisation. The situation in the city of Iquique, where in September 2021 there was a march against the arrival of migrants, was an isolated event. It was also the result of the stress that can build up in a situation of coexistence in undignified conditions, a result of the lack of public policies capable of anticipating the drama of this humanitarian crisis.
On social media, opinions are polarised and people say many things, but these positions have not materialised in marches on the capital, Santiago de Chile, or in other cities. On the contrary, in Iquique we have seen migrants on the streets in extremely difficult conditions, and city residents welcoming and helping them to the best of their ability.
The situation in Iquique was also one of exclusion from the possibility of regularisation of people who entered through unauthorised passages, a direct result of Law No. 21.325 on Migration and Aliens passed in April this year. In the previous regularisation process in 2018, migrants who entered through unauthorised passages were allowed to register, although no work permits were granted. Migrants know this is the case, but they prefer this precarious situation to going hungry in their countries of origin.
In the context of the pandemic, because of health restrictions, many migrants were forced to stay in public places, unable to go anywhere else, undocumented and excluded from social benefits. This created difficulties for local residents, as well as for the migrants themselves who lacked state assistance.
It was only after some Venezuelan migrants died while crossing the border that the Chilean state began to provide assistance, on the understanding that they were in fact refugees or asylum seekers.
What should the state do in this situation?
The state has an obligation to provide a solution to this situation. An alternative could be for it to coordinate with the private sector, which is in need of workers, especially in construction, agriculture, services and in some professional categories. The situation of people fitting these profiles could be regularised through coordination with the private sector, providing them with training and job placement. This would provide a different perspective on migration and would help avoid situations of dependency and lack of autonomy.
It seems that restrictions are not the best solution. Restrictions do not stop migration, and instead deepen the violations of migrants’ rights, as they make them susceptible to the challenges of the labour market and the housing rental market and limit their access to basic rights such as health and education. They are also of no use to the authorities, who do not know where migrants are, who they are, how many they are or how they have arrived.
Over the entire recent period since Chile returned to democracy, none of a series of governments developed a real migration policy that reformed and updated existing regulations. The current government has been the only one to propose a change in the law on migration and in migration management, but, due to the context and the pressure of migratory flows, it has turned out to be a restrictive policy, or at least one that seeks to limit the flow. It is a policy that discourages people from entering the country, driving those in a regular situation to exhaustion due to eternal waits to obtain documents, lack of communication by migration authorities and bureaucratic centralisation in Santiago.
We are now in the middle of an election campaign, and in such times migration can be exploited to win votes. The government programmes of all the candidates have very limited information on this issue, but all who have spoken about it have done so in a restrictive tone. I think the problem lies there, more than in the fact that there is xenophobia within society. It seems that migrants only begin to be heard when they become an electoral force, which in Chile is just beginning to happen.
How adequate is the new law to achieving ‘safe, orderly and regular’ migration?
Law 21.325 reflects well the position of this administration on the issue of migration. It should be remembered that in December 2018 Chile refused to sign the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, arguing that each country should retain its sovereignty to set its migration rules, even though Chile had been one of the countries that had led its drafting process.
The new law has some positive aspects and enshrines some rights, such as the rights to health, education, family reunification and work. It includes visas for minors and gives consideration to people with disabilities and women, giving them protection in certain specific cases such as pregnancy, smuggling and trafficking and gender-based violence. It decentralises the revalidation of diplomas and increases the administration’s presence in Chile’s regions. It also gives people with dependent visas autonomy to develop an economic activity.
Although these rights are not currently refused, they are not guaranteed by law either, but rather recognised administratively, which makes them somewhat fragile.
At the same time, the new law represents a shift in migration management. Until now, the law allowed for changes of status within the national territory, but the new law will not allow this: all visas must be obtained from consulates in the migrants’ countries of origin. This will give the administration the ultimate decision on how many migrants to allow in, which and under what conditions. This is perhaps the biggest change introduced by the new law. Only in some cases will certain people be allowed to change their migration status, but this will depend on the content of the regulatory degree that is issued to implement the new law.
What work is the Chilean Catholic Migration Institute doing in this context?
As it is beyond our reach to tackle the causes of migration, we defend the rights of migrants. Our objectives are to welcome, protect and integrate them.
We advocate with the authorities, which sometimes comes at a cost. This is necessary work because although there are migrants’ organisations, they tend to be organised around one person, a leader, and are not highly institutionalised. There are organisations for Colombians, Ecuadorians, Haitians and Venezuelans, among others. There is also Chile’s National Immigrants’ Coordination, which brings together several organisations, has a presence in protests and social media, and includes several Haitian, Peruvian and Venezuelan collectives.
We also provide legal advice, which is what is most lacking in Chile, due to a lack of access to information, which is not promoted by the authorities who should be attending to migrants. We help with online forms and procedures and provide social assistance, particularly in the form of shelter, as there are no state-run shelters for migrants.
Everything that exists in Chile in the area of migrants’ reception and services is the result of civil society initiatives, largely by organisations, institutions and services of the Catholic Church. INCAMI is the Catholic Church’s main body on migration issues: through the work teams of the Pastoral of Human Mobility (PMH) in each of Chile’s regions, we coordinate the reception and care of migrants with other Church bodies. Our resources are limited, but during the pandemic we have opened churches to receive women and children and we have provided all the attention we could through social media.
We listen to what people need, something the authorities don’t do. With the help of some municipalities, we accompanied the return of thousands of people not only from neighbouring Bolivia, but also from Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Venezuela and other countries.
Our migration teams travel not only within the Metropolitan Region of Santiago but also to Chile’s regions, to visit the municipalities with the greatest presence of migrants and offer them the possibility of regularising their status, obtaining a visa, working under fair conditions, contributing to the social security system and accessing their fundamental rights. Sometimes we do this with the support of PMH teams in the regions, government authorities or the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
What support do organisations defending the rights of migrants in Chile need from the international community?
We face a regional challenge that requires a regional response. States should coordinate an international approach to migration, as is already being done by the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), led by the United Nations Refugee Agency and the IOM. Further progress is needed in this process, as the Venezuelan situation is far from over.
In order to assist migrants while doing very necessary advocacy work, we need resources: staple foods to assemble basic food baskets and economic resources to pay for accommodation, among other things. It is important to remember that migrants are not the problem, but rather the symptom of realities undergoing deeper transformation, and most of them require protection.
Civic space in Chile is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with the Chilean Catholic Migration Institute through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@INCAMIchile and@JosDelioCubides on Twitter.
Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US
By Danny Sriskandarajah
The United States’ abandonment of global migration and climate change agreements in the same year could be disastrous for climate refugees. When it comes to addressing the growing problem of climate change induced displacement, neither the UN’s Global Compact on Migration nor the Paris Climate Change agreement go far enough. With or without the support of the United States, we need both of these agreements to be more ambitious and implemented faster, to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Read on: Open Democracy
Denmark: ‘There is a focus on protecting borders rather than people’s rights’
CIVICUS speaks withCharlotte Slente, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), about recent immigration policy changes and the rights of refugees in Denmark. The DRC is an international humanitarian organisation that supports international refugees and internally displaced persons by providing protection and life-saving assistance.
Why has the Danish government recently decided to revoke temporary residence permits of Syrian refugees, and what have been the consequences of this policy?
The 2015 introduction of a temporary subsidiary protection status with fewer rights – mainly granted to certain groups of Syrian refugees – is the reason behind the possibility to revoke asylum status for these Syrian nationals. This specific status comes with an amendment of the Danish Aliens Act in which the cessation clauses of the Refugee Convention no longer apply to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, meaning that changes in the home country no longer need to be sustainable – and it is possible to revoke asylum status even if the situation in the home country remains serious, fragile and unpredictable.
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) disagrees – along the lines of the recommendations from United Nations Refugee Agency – with the decision by the Danish authorities to deem the Damascus area or any area in Syria safe for refugees to be returned. The absence of fighting in some areas does not mean that people can safely return. There are numerous reports of arbitrary detentions and severe human rights abuse of the civilian population.
We are also concerned because many of the Syrians who now have their residence permits revoked or have their application for asylum in Denmark rejected will not leave voluntarily due to the risks involved, and will consequently be placed in limbo at return centres. Given the lack of diplomatic relations between the Syrian and Danish authorities regarding forced returns, it is not possible for the Danish authorities actually to return Syrians. They can of course return once the conditions in Syria make it safe for them. But as long as the situation in Syria is not conducive for returns, we believe it is pointless to remove people from the life they have built in Denmark.
It is important to note that not all Syrian refugees in Denmark are affected by this policy. The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten of 21 November 2021 estimated that some 34,000 Syrians have received residency in Denmark since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011. Of those, 4,600 received ‘temporary protection status’ on the basis of section 7.3 of the Aliens Act. From this group, approximately 1,250 Syrian nationals are from the Damascus or Rif-Dimashq areas and hence in danger of having their residence permit revoked.
So far around 850 have had their cases examined at the Immigration Service and some 280 have had their residency revoked. About half of the roughly 200 cases that have been considered by the Refugees Appeals have been confirmed and the other half have had their residency prolonged. So, approximately 100 Syrians have had their residency finally revoked and are supposed to go to the return centres.
We don’t know how many are actually at the centres as of now, but we believe it is only a handful. People are not detained at these centres. And as Denmark doesn’t maintain any cooperation with the Syrian authorities it cannot return these people by force as the situation is now.
How has this policy impacted on Syrian refugees living in Denmark?
The increased focus on temporariness over sustainable, long-term solutions for refugees has a negative impact on refugee protection and hinders good integration. We know from our work with refugees in Denmark that the temporariness and the fear of losing their stay in Denmark have affected many of them: not just Syrians who risk having their residency revoked, but also other groups of refugees who fear that their permits might suddenly be revoked too.
This is not a new phenomenon. Over the years, we’ve seen many political actions aimed at making it more difficult for refugees to get a foothold in Danish society.
Among them were the introduction of the so-called temporary protection status in 2015 and the changes in legislation made in 2019, which increasingly emphasised temporariness. This has had a concrete impact on the motivation for refugees to integrate into Danish society, as they are constantly being told that they should only expect to stay in Denmark temporarily. This is neither a dignified way to treat refugees who have fled conflict and human rights violations in their home countries, nor a very productive way of treating them, as it hampers integration efforts.
Additionally, these efforts have an impact on how other parts of society view refugees and integration. For example, the private sector is less likely to invest in and hire refugees, as they do not know if the resources put into these individuals will be lost if they lose their residency soon after employment.
However, most refugees end up staying in Denmark for many years and even for generations, because the circumstances in their home countries remain difficult and the reasons they fled, such as personal persecution, haven’t changed. That is why DRC calls for more long-term solutions for refugees in Denmark.
Over the past decades, Denmark’s position on immigration has shifted dramatically. Why has this happened?
Over the past years, Denmark has received international attention for introducing restrictive measures for refugees and asylum seekers. The current government seems to rely on the assumption that the asylum system is broken and that one way to ‘fix’ it is by preventing asylum seekers coming here.
However, the reality is one of lack of international solidarity in the global protection system, which means that the vast majority of the world’s refugees are hosted in global south countries. Countries local to conflict zones host 73 per cent of the world’s refugees. Overall, 86 per cent of all displaced people – internally displaced people and refugees combined – are hosted by low-income countries.
Still, Denmark and other European countries would like poorer countries to take an even greater responsibility. This can potentially have a negative impact on international cooperation on refugees. If a country such as Denmark fails to shoulder its share, there is a real risk that refugee-hosting states will follow suit, undermining the global protection of refugees with potentially devastating consequences.
One point worth noting is the discrepancy between what Denmark does internationally and domestically. Denmark has a very strong system of development assistance, one of the best in the world. It is rights-based, needs-based and holistic, with a significant emphasis on the role of civil society. Additionally, it is very positive that there is broad consensus across the political spectrum in Denmark that we should continue to be a strong donor, partner and contributor, and continue to provide support to marginalised people such as refugees and displaced persons in the regions of origin. This is something to be proud of.
However, while Denmark remains one of the world’s leading donors in the area of humanitarian and development assistance relative to the country’s size and economy, and a rather progressive voice when it comes to refugee rights in the regions of origin, domestically it appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
One concrete example of this concerns the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). Along with other western countries, Denmark has been very keen on ensuring that the principles – more solidarity, more funding and more self-reliance – are being implemented in many host countries, while being criticised for trying to pay its way out of its own responsibility to live up to the same principles. So, three years after the international community agreed on the GCR, a lack of political will and leadership is challenging the achievement of more equitable and predictable responses to forced displacement.
Through the GCR the international community promised better responsibility sharing and durable solutions. Yet three years on, a few generous host countries continue to shoulder the greatest responsibility, while richer nations are providing neither protection for refugees nor sufficient economic support.
Do you think the attitude of the Danish government points to a broader European pattern?
We are seeing many European countries take steps away from ensuring protection and upholding the values that the European Union (EU) was built upon. It’s a race to the bottom when it comes to refugees’ rights across Europe. It seems what EU member states have primarily been able to agree upon is protecting borders rather protecting asylum seekers.
We have seen systematic pushbacks at the EU’s external borders over many years, combined with measures aimed at deterring arrivals of asylum seekers in the EU, including cooperation with non-EU countries that risks violating the principle of non-refoulement and does not uphold fundamental human rights and dignity.
EU member states have illegally prevented several thousand women, men and children from seeking protection at border crossings, for instance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Hungary, Italy, North Macedonia and Serbia in 2021. This involved rights violations such as denial of access to asylum procedures, physical abuse and assault and theft at the hands of national border police and law enforcement officials. It’s a telling example of how the extreme is being normalised.
The current situation at the border with Belarus follows the same trend of focusing on protecting borders rather than people’s rights. DRC is very concerned about the current humanitarian situation at the EU’s external borders, where people are denied access to fundamental rights and protection. The situation is unacceptable, illegal and dangerous. Among the people who remain trapped in the border areas are vulnerable groups such as families with children, pregnant women and older people, many of whom have fled war and conflict in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
While the situation calls for a calm and measured reaction, the EU and its member states at the external borders are responding with panicked proposals for emergency measures that curtail rights and safeguards of those seeking protection. Rather than limiting safeguards, the EU Commission should ensure that member states at its external borders treat people seeking protection with dignity, in accordance with international and European law. Disregard of international obligations by other states does not exempt EU member states from their responsibility. Describing a few thousand people as a threat to the EU and its 450 million inhabitants is unsettling and disproportionate. The situation must not set a precedent for managing future situations at the EU’s external borders.
Another example, where Denmark sadly is leading the way, is the ambition of outsourcing asylum processing to another country. The idea to externalise asylum and refugee protection is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity. Similar models, such as the offshore approach implemented in Australia, have been characterised by detention, physical assault, slow asylum proceedings, lack of access to healthcare and lack of access to legal assistance, creating zones of exemption where right violations are likely to occur.
At the same time, Denmark is sending an extremely problematic signal to our neighbouring countries in the EU and not least to the – often poorer – countries in the world that take by far the greatest responsibility for the world’s refugees. The continued willingness of neighbouring countries in areas plagued by conflict to host millions of refugees is not something to take for granted. If a rich country such as Denmark is not willing to take responsibility, there is significant risk that countries hosting far larger number of refugees will also opt out and give up on global efforts to find joint and sustainable solutions.
What we can hope for, though, is that Denmark can inspire other countries to follow suit and live up to the UN recommendation of providing at least 0.7 per cent of gross national income to official development assistance – something that Denmark has done since 1978. And we hope that other countries will also follow the example of Denmark when it comes to providing long-term and predictable funding for development and humanitarian assistance, in order to ensure better, more holistic and more sustainable development and solutions across the globe.
How has civil society in Denmark responded, both to the immediate issue and to the evident wave of hostility towards migrants and refugees from politicians and the public?
First and foremost, we believe that it is important that refugees and exiles know there are people and organisations who are concerned about their situation, who sympathise with them and try to help them in the ways that are possible. DRC and others in civil society have been very vocal in the public debate, writing opinion pieces and letters to office holders, meeting with decision-makers, creating campaigns and organising demonstrations to protest against this development.
We believe that it means something to see people fighting for their rights and dignity. But more concrete day-to-day support is also of great importance. DRC has some 6,500 volunteers throughout Denmark. These are people who for instance help refugee children with their homework. They welcome refugee families into the local community and help people with job applications and reading and understanding official information. They invite them to dinner – and teach them the dos and don’ts of Danish society. They explain the Danish sense of humour. They speak Danish with them to help them develop language skills. They teach them how to ride a bike. They act as the extended family and network that many refugee families have had to leave behind or have scattered around the world.
This has immense importance for refugees. It’s our experience that a helping hand can mean the world. Both in a very real way, if volunteers or friendly neighbours help them get a job or stop by with some extra food, and in a broader sense, by showing that there are people who do sympathise, care about them and are willing to open their arms and help them get settled.
We have also observed that when the debate becomes more polarised and stricter policies are introduced, more people volunteer and show their support for refugees in other ways. As the number of asylum seekers soared back in 2015-2016, the number of people willing to give a helping hand and donate to our work also increased. This goes to show that there is sympathy among the Danish public, which the DRC believes is very important.
Civic space in Denmark is rated ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with the Danish Refugee Council through itswebsite or itsFacebook orInstagram pages, and follow@DRC_dk and@CharlotteSlente on Twitter.
HAÏTI : « Il est possible de passer de l’ingérence étrangère à un véritable leadership du peuple haïtien »
CIVICUS s’entretient avec Ellie Happel, professeur de la Global Justice Clinic et directrice du Haiti Project à la New York University School of Law. Ellie a vécu et travaillé en Haïti pendant plusieurs années, et son travail se concentre sur la solidarité avec les mouvements sociaux en Haïti et la justice raciale et environnementale
Quels ont été les principaux développements politiques depuis l’assassinat du président Jovenel Moïse en juillet 2021 ?
En tant qu’Américaine, je voudrais commencer par souligner le rôle que le gouvernement américain a joué dans la création de la situation actuelle. L’histoire des interventions étrangères improductives et oppressives est longue.
Pour comprendre le contexte de la présidence de Moïse, il faut toutefois remonter au moins à 2010. Après le tremblement de terre qui a dévasté Haïti en janvier 2010, les États-Unis et d’autres acteurs extérieurs ont appelé à la tenue d’élections. Les gens n’avaient pas leur carte de vote ; plus de deux millions de personnes avaient perdu leur maison. Mais les élections ont eu lieu. Le gouvernement américain est intervenu au second tour des élections présidentielles haïtiennes, en appelant le candidat et fondateur du parti PHTK, Michel Martelly, à se présenter au second tour. Martelly a été élu par la suite.
Pendant la présidence de Martelly, nous avons assisté à un déclin des conditions politiques, économiques et sociales. La corruption était bien documentée et endémique. Martelly n’a pas organisé d’élections et a fini par gouverner par décret. Il a choisi lui-même Moïse pour successeur. Le gouvernement américain a fortement soutenu les administrations de Martelly et de Moïse malgré l’augmentation de la violence, la destruction des institutions gouvernementales haïtiennes, la corruption et l’impunité qui ont eu lieu sous leur règne.
La mort de Moïse n’est pas le plus gros problème auquel Haïti est confronté. Pendant son mandat, Moïse a effectivement détruit les institutions haïtiennes. Le peuple haïtien s’est soulevé contre le régime du PHTK en signe de protestation, et il a été accueilli par la violence et la répression. Il existe des preuves de l’implication du gouvernement dans des massacres de masse de personnes dans des régions connues pour leur opposition au PHTK.
Deux semaines avant l’assassinat de Moïse, un militant de premier plan et une journaliste très connue ont été assassinés en Haïti. Diego Charles et Antoinette Duclair demandaient des comptes. Ils étaient actifs dans le mouvement visant à construire un Haïti meilleur. Ils ont été tués en toute impunité.
Il est clair que la crise actuelle n’a pas pour origine l’assassinat de Moïse. Elle est le résultat de l’échec des politiques étrangères et de la façon dont le gouvernement haïtien a réprimé et stoppé les manifestations de l’opposition qui demandait des comptes pour la corruption et la violence, et qui exigeait le changement.
Ce qui me donne actuellement de l’espoir, c’est le travail de la Commission pour une solution haïtienne à la crise, qui a été créée avant l’assassinat de Moïse. La Commission est un large groupe de partis politiques et d’organisations de la société civile (OSC) qui se sont réunis pour travailler collectivement à la reconstruction du gouvernement. C’est l’occasion de passer de l’ingérence étrangère à un véritable leadership du peuple haïtien.
Quel est votre point de vue sur le report des élections et du référendum constitutionnel, et quelles sont les chances que des votes démocratiques aient lieu ?
Dans le climat actuel, les élections ne sont pas la prochaine étape pour résoudre la crise politique d’Haïti. Les élections ne devraient pas avoir lieu tant que les conditions d’un vote équitable, libre et légitime ne sont pas réunies. Les élections de ces 11 dernières années démontrent qu’elles ne sont pas un moyen automatique de parvenir à une démocratie représentative.
Aujourd’hui, la tenue d’élections se heurte à de nombreux obstacles. Le premier est celui de la gouvernance : les élections doivent être supervisées par un organe de gouvernance légitime et respecté par le peuple haïtien. Il serait impossible pour le gouvernement de facto d’organiser des élections. Le deuxième problème est la violence des gangs. On estime que plus de la moitié de Port-au-Prince est sous le contrôle des gangs. Lorsque le conseil électoral provisoire a préparé les élections il y a quelques mois, son personnel n’a pas pu accéder à un certain nombre de centres de vote en raison du contrôle exercé par les gangs. Troisièmement, les électeurs haïtiens éligibles devraient avoir des cartes d’identité d’électeur.
Le gouvernement américain et d’autres acteurs doivent affirmer le droit du peuple haïtien à l’autodétermination. Les États-Unis ne devraient ni insister ni soutenir des élections sans preuve de mesures concrètes pour garantir qu’elles soient libres, équitables, inclusives et perçues comme légitimes. Les OSC haïtiennes et la Commission indiqueront quand les conditions sont réunies pour des élections libres, équitables et légitimes.
Y a-t-il une crise migratoire causée par la situation en Haïti ? Comment peut-on relever les défis auxquels sont confrontés les migrants haïtiens ?
Ce que nous appelons la « crise migratoire » est un exemple frappant de la manière dont la politique étrangère et la politique d’immigration des États-Unis à l’égard d’Haïti ont longtemps été affectées par le racisme anti-Noir.
De nombreux Haïtiens qui ont quitté le pays après le tremblement de terre de 2010 se sont d’abord installés en Amérique du Sud. Beaucoup sont repartis par la suite. Les économies du Brésil et du Chili se sont détériorées, et les migrants haïtiens se sont heurtés au racisme et au manque d’opportunités économiques. Des familles et des individus ont voyagé vers le nord, à pied, en bateau et en bus, en direction de la frontière entre le Mexique et les États-Unis.
Depuis de nombreuses années, le gouvernement américain ne permet pas aux migrants haïtiens et aux autres migrants d’entrer aux États-Unis. Il expulse des personnes sans entretien de demande d’asile - un entretien de « crainte fondée », qui est requis par le droit international - vers Haïti.
Le gouvernement américain doit cesser d’utiliser le titre 42, une disposition de santé publique, comme prétexte pour expulser des migrants. Le gouvernement américain doit au contraire offrir une aide humanitaire et soutenir le regroupement familial et la relocalisation des Haïtiens aux États-Unis.
Il est impossible de justifier une expulsion vers Haïti à l’heure actuelle, pour les mêmes raisons que le gouvernement américain a déconseillé aux citoyens américains de s’y rendre. On estime à près de 1 000 le nombre de cas documentés d’enlèvement en 2021. Des amis expliquent que tout le monde est en danger. Les enlèvements ne sont plus ciblés, mais des écoliers, des marchands de rue et des piétons sont pris en otage pour exiger de l’argent. Le gouvernement américain a non seulement déclaré qu’Haïti n’était pas un pays sûr pour les voyages, mais en mai 2021, le ministère américain de la sécurité intérieure a désigné Haïti comme bénéficiaire du statut de protection temporaire, permettant aux ressortissants haïtiens admissibles résidant aux États-Unis de demander à y rester parce qu’Haïti ne peut pas rapatrier ses ressortissants en toute sécurité.
Les États-Unis doivent mettre fin aux déportations vers Haïti. Les États-Unis et d’autres pays d’Amérique doivent commencer à reconnaître, traiter et réparer la discrimination anti-Noir qui caractérise leurs politiques d’immigration.
Que devrait faire la communauté internationale, et en particulier les États-Unis, pour améliorer la situation ?
Premièrement, la communauté internationale devrait suivre l’exemple des OSC haïtiennes et s’engager de manière sérieuse et solidaire avec la Commission pour une solution haïtienne à la crise. Daniel Foote, l’envoyé spécial des États-Unis pour Haïti, a démissionné en signe de protestation huit semaines après son entrée en fonction ; il a déclaré que ses collègues du département d’État n’étaient pas intéressés par le soutien de solutions dirigées par les Haïtiens. Les États-Unis devraient jouer le rôle d’encourager la recherche d’un consensus et de faciliter les conversations pour faire avancer les choses sans interférer.
Deuxièmement, toutes les déportations vers Haïti doivent cesser. Elles ne sont pas seulement des violations du droit international. Elles sont aussi hautement immorales et injustes.
Les étrangers, y compris moi-même, ne sont pas les mieux placés pour prescrire des solutions en Haïti : nous devons plutôt soutenir celles créées par le peuple haïtien et les organisations haïtiennes. Il est temps pour le peuple haïtien de décider de la voie à suivre, et nous devons le soutenir activement, et le suivre.
L’espace civique en Haïti est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
HAÏTI : « La communauté internationale ne s’est jamais attaquée aux causes profondes de la crise »
CIVICUS s’entretient avec Nixon Boumba, militant des droits humains et membre du Kolektif Jistis Min nan Ayiti (Collectif pour la justice minière en Haïti), sur la situation politique en Haïti après l’assassinat du président Jovenel Moïse. Formé en 2012, le Collectif pour la justice minière en Haïti est un mouvement d’organisations, d’individus et de partenaires de la société civile haïtienne qui font pression pour la transparence et la justice sociale et environnementale face à l’intérêt international croissant pour le secteur minier haïtien. Il sensibilise les communautés touchées aux conséquences de l’exploitation minière dans cinq domaines : l’environnement, l’eau, le travail, l’agriculture et la terre.
HAÏTI : « La société civile doit s’impliquer car les acteurs politiques ne peuvent pas trouver de solution à nos problèmes »
CIVICUSéchange avec Monique Clesca, journaliste, défenseuse de la démocratie et membre de la Commission pour la recherche d’une solution haïtienne à la crise (CRSC), à propos de la crise actuelle en Haïti et des appels à l’intervention étrangère.
La CRSC, également connue sous le nom de Groupe Montana, est un groupe d’organisations et de leaders civiques, religieux et politiques qui se sont réunis au début de l’année 2021. Le groupe a promu l’Accord de Montana à la suite de l’assassinat du président Jovenel Moïse en juillet 2021. Cet accord mettait en place un gouvernement provisoire de deux ans pour succéder à Ariel Henry, le Premier ministre par intérim. De plus, il prévoyait l’organisation d’élections dès que possible, ainsi qu’une feuille de route pour réduire l’insécurité, faire face à la crise humanitaire et répondre aux demandes de justice sociale. Le Bureau de suivi de l’Accord de Montana continue d’assurer le suivi de cette feuille de route.
Quelles sont les causes de la crise actuelle en Haïti ?
Les gens semblent associer la crise à l’assassinat du président Moïse, mais elle a commencé bien avant en raison de plusieurs problèmes sous-jacents. Il s'agit certes d'une crise politique, mais plus profondément on fait face à une crise sociale. Depuis de nombreuses décennies, la majorité de la population haïtienne subit les effets de profondes inégalités. Les écarts sont énormes en termes de santé et d’éducation, d’où la nécessité de justice sociale. Le problème va bien au-delà des questions politiques, constitutionnelles et humanitaires les plus visibles.
Au cours de la dernière décennie, différents gouvernements ont tenté de saper les institutions de l’État afin de faire prévaloir un système corrompu : il n’y a pas eu d’élections transparentes ni d’alternance, avec trois gouvernements successifs du même parti politique. L’ancien président Michel Martelly a reporté à deux reprises les élections présidentielles, gouvernant par décret pendant plus d’un an. En 2016, des allégations de fraude ont été soulevées contre Moïse, son successeur, qui a dissous le Parlement pendant son mandat sans jamais organiser des élections. Il a aussi révoqué plusieurs juges de la Cour suprême et a politisé la police.
Il a également proposé un référendum constitutionnel, qui a été reporté à plusieurs reprises et qui est clairement inconstitutionnel. La Constitution de 1987 énonce les modalités du droit d'amendement, donc en tentant de la réécrire, Moïse a choisi la voie anticonstitutionnelle.
Lorsque Moïse a été tué, Haïti faisait déjà face à la faiblesse des institutions, à la corruption massive, et à l’absence d’élections et de renouvellement de la classe politique qu’il avait accentué.À la suite de son assassinat la situation s’est encore aggravée, car à l'absence du Président s'ajoutait le manque d’opérationnalité de l'organe judiciaire et législatif. Nous avons connu, et continuons de connaître, une véritable crise constitutionnelle.
Ariel Henry, l’actuel Premier ministre par intérim, n’a clairement aucun mandat. Moïse l’a nommé Premier ministre successeur deux jours avant son décès, sans même laisser une lettre de nomination signée.
Qu’a proposé le Groupe Montana pour sortir de cette crise ?
En début 2021 le Groupe Montana s’est fondé sur l'idée que la société civile devait s’impliquer car les acteurs politiques ne pouvaient pas trouver de solution aux problèmes d’Haïti. Un forum de la société civile a donc formé une commission qui a travaillé pendant six mois pour créer un dialogue et tenter de dégager un consensus en s’adressant à tous les acteurs politiques, ainsi qu’aux organisations de la société civile. Grâce à toutes ces contributions, nous avons abouti à un projet d’accord qui a été finalisé et signé par près d’un millier d’organisations et de citoyens : l’Accord de Montana.
Nous avons élaboré un plan composé de deux parties : d'une part un plan de gouvernance et d'autre part une feuille de route pour la justice sociale et l’aide humanitaire, qui a été signée dans le cadre de l’accord. Pour obtenir un consensus avec une participation plus large, nous avons proposé la création d’un organe de contrôle qui jouerait le rôle du pouvoir législatif et d’un pouvoir judiciaire intérimaire pendant la transition. Une fois qu’Haïti aura organisé des élections transparentes, il y aura un organe législatif dûment élu et le gouvernement pourra passer par le processus constitutionnel pour nommer le plus haute juridiction, la Cour suprême. Tel est le modèle de gouvernance que nous avons envisagé pour la transition, dans une tentative de rapprochement à l’esprit de la Constitution haïtienne.
Au début de l’année, nous avions rencontré plusieurs fois Henry afin d’entamer des négociations avec lui et ses alliés. À un moment donné, il nous a dit qu’il n’avait pas l’autorité pour négocier. Il a donc fermé la porte aux négociations.
Quels sont les défis à relever pour organiser des élections dans le contexte actuel ?
Le principal défi est l’insécurité généralisée. Les gangs terrorisent la population. Les enlèvements ainsi que les assassinats sont monnaie courante. Les gens ne peuvent pas sortir de chez eux : ils ne peuvent pas aller à la banque, dans les magasins, ni même à l’hôpital. Les enfants ne peuvent pas aller à l’école : la rentrée était prévue pour septembre, puis a été reportée jusqu’à octobre, et maintenant le gouvernement n'annonce même pas quand elle aura lieu. En outre, il y a une situation humanitaire désastreuse en Haïti, qui s’est d'autant plus aggravée avec le blocage du Terminal Varreux, le principal terminal pétrolier de Port-au-Prince. Cet événement a eu un impact sur l’alimentation en électricité et la distribution d’eau, et donc sur l’accès de la population aux biens et services de base. Au milieu d’une épidémie de choléra, les établissements de santé ont été contraints de réduire leurs services ou bien de fermer leurs portes complètement.
Il y a aussi une polarisation politique et une méfiance généralisée. Les gens se méfient non seulement des politiciens, mais aussi les uns des autres.
En raison de la pression politique et de l’activité des gangs, les mobilisations citoyennes ont été inconstantes. Or depuis fin août, des manifestations massives ont été organisées pour demander la démission d’Ariel Henry. Les gens ont également manifesté contre la hausse des prix du carburant, les pénuries et la corruption. Ils ont aussi clairement rejeté toute intervention militaire étrangère.
Quelle est votre position concernant l’appel du Premier ministre à une intervention étrangère ?
Henry n’a aucune légitimité pour demander une intervention militaire. La communauté internationale peut aider, mais ne peut pas prendre la décision d’intervenir ou pas. Nous devons d’abord avoir une transition politique de deux ans avec un gouvernement crédible. Nous avons des idées, mais à ce stade nous avons besoin de voir cette transition.
L’espace civique en Haïti est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
HAITI: ‘Civil society must get involved because political actors cannot find a solution to our problems’
CIVICUS speaks about Haiti’s ongoing crisis and calls for foreign intervention with Monique Clesca, a journalist, democracy advocate and member of the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis (Commission pour la recherche d’une solution haitienne a la crise, CRSC). CRSC, also known as the Montana Group, is a group of civic, religious and political organisations and leaders that got together in early 2021. Following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, it promoted theMontana Accord, calling for a two-year provisional government to take over from acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and hold elections as soon as possible, as well as a road map to reduce insecurity, tackle the humanitarian crisis and respond to social justice demands. The Monitoring Office of the Montana Accord continues to follow up on this roadmap.
What are the causes of Haiti’s current crisis?
People seem to associate the crisis with the assassination of President Moïse, but it started way before that, because there were various underlying issues. It is a political crisis but also a much deeper social crisis. The majority of people in Haiti have suffered the effect of profound inequalities for many decades. There are huge gaps in terms of health and education so there is a need for basic social justice. The problem goes far beyond the more visible political, constitutional and humanitarian issues.
Over the past decade, we have had governments that tried to undermine state institutions so that a corrupt system could prevail: there have not been transparent elections and no alternation of power, with three successive governments of the same political party. Former president Michel Martelly postponed the presidential elections twice. He ruled by decree for more than a year. In 2016, fraud allegations were made against Moïse, his successor. In his time in office, Moïse dissolved parliament and never organised elections. He fired several Supreme Court judges and politicised the police.
He also put forward a constitutional referendum, which has been repeatedly postponed, that is clearly unconstitutional. The 1987 Constitution defines how it should be amended, so by trying to rewrite it, Moïse went the unconstitutional way.
By the time Moïse was killed, Haiti was left with his legacy of weak institutions, massive corruption and the lack of elections and renewal of the political class. After Moïse’s assassination the situation worsened further, because now there was no president and no functioning judiciary and legislative body. We had, and continue to have, a full-blown constitutional crisis.
Ariel Henry, the current acting prime minister, clearly has no mandate. Moïse selected him as the next prime minister two days before he was killed and didn’t even leave a signed nomination letter.
What has the Montana Group proposed as a way out of this crisis?
The Montana Group formed in early 2021 out of the realisation that civil society must get involved because political actors could not find a solution to Haiti’s problems. A forum of civil society then put together a commission that worked for six months creating dialogue and trying to build consensus by speaking to all political actors, as well as to civil society organisations. As a result of all this input, we came up with a draft agreement that was finalised and signed by almost a thousand organisations and citizens: the Montana Accord.
We put together a two-part plan: a governance plan and a social justice and humanitarian roadmap, which was signed as part of the agreement. To get consensus with wider participation, we proposed the creation of a checks and balances body that would carry out the role of the legislative branch and also an interim judiciary during the transition. Once Haiti can have transparent elections, there would be a proper elected legislative body and the government could go through the constitutional process to name the high-level judiciary body, the Supreme Court. That is the governance that we’ve envisioned for the transition, one that is closer to the spirit of the Haitian Constitution.
Earlier this year, we met several times with Henry and tried to start negotiations with him and his allies. At one point, he told us he didn’t have the authority to negotiate. So he closed the door to negotiations.
What are the challenges to holding elections in the current context?
The main challenge is the massive insecurity. Gangs are terrorising the population. Kidnappings are rampant, people are being assassinated. People can’t go out of their homes: they can’t go to the bank, to the stores, to the hospital. Children can’t go to school: classes were supposed to start in September, then in October and now the government is silent on when they will start.
There is also the dire humanitarian situation, only made worse when gangs blocked the main oil terminal of Varreux in Port-au-Prince. This impacted on power supply and water distribution, and therefore on people’s access to basic goods and services. Amid a cholera outbreak, health facilities were forced to reduce their services or shut down.
And there is political polarisation and massive mistrust. People don’t only mistrust politicians; they also mistrust one another.
Because of the political pressure and gang activity, citizen mobilisations have been up and down, but since late August there have been massive demonstrations calling for Henry’s resignation. People have also marched against rising fuel prices, shortages and corruption. They have also clearly rejected any foreign military intervention.
What is your position regarding the prime minister’s call for foreign intervention?
Henry has no legitimacy to call for any military intervention. The international community can help, but it is not up to them to decide whether to intervene or not. We first need to have a two-year political transition with a credible government. We have ideas, but at this point, we need to see a transition.
Civic space in Haiti is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
HAITI: ‘The international community has never addressed the root causes of the crisis’
CIVICUS speaks with Nixon Boumba, a human rights activist and member of Kolektif Jistis Min nan Ayiti (Haiti Justice in Mining Collective), about the political situation in Haiti following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Formed in 2012, Haiti Justice in Mining Collective is a movement of Haitian civil society organisations, individuals and partners pushing for transparency and social and environmental justice in the face of growing international interest in Haiti’s mining sector. It educates affected communities on the consequences of mining in five areas: the environment, water, work, agriculture and land.
HAITI: ‘There is opportunity for a meaningful shift from foreign interference to true leadership of Haitian people’
CIVICUS speaks with Ellie Happel, professor of the Global Justice Clinic and Director of the Haiti Project at New York University School of Law. Ellie lived and worked in Haiti for several years, and her work continues to focus on solidarity with social movements in Haiti and racial and environmental justice.
What have been the key political developments since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021?
As an American, I want to begin by emphasising the role the US government has played in creating the present situation. The history of unproductive and oppressive foreign intervention is long.
To understand the context of the Moïse presidency, however, we have to at least go back to 2010. Following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, the USA and other external actors called for elections. People did not have their voting cards; more than two million people had lost their homes. But elections went ahead. The US government intervened in the second round of Haiti’s presidential elections, calling for candidate and founder of the PHTK party, Michel Martelly, to be put into the second round. Martelly was subsequently elected.
During the Martelly presidency we saw a decline in political, economic and social conditions. Corruption was well documented and rampant. Martelly failed to hold elections and ended up ruling by decree. He hand-selected Moïse as his successor. The US government strongly supported both the Martelly and Moïse administrations despite the increasing violence, the destruction of Haitian government institutions, the corruption and the impunity that occurred under their rule.
Moïse’s death is not the biggest problem that Haiti faces. During his tenure, Moïse effectively destroyed Haitian institutions. Haitian people rose up against the PHTK regime in protest, and they were met with violence and repression. There is evidence of government implication in mass killings – massacres – of people in areas that were known to oppose PHTK.
Two weeks prior to Moïse’s assassination, a prominent activist and a widely known journalist were murdered in Haiti. Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair were calling for accountability. They were active in the movement to build a better Haiti. They were killed with impunity.
It is clear that the present crisis did not originate in Moïse’s assassination. It is the result of failed foreign policies and of the way the Haitian government repressed and halted opposition protests demanding accountability for corruption and violence, and demanding change.
What currently gives me hope is the work of the Commission for Haitian Solution to the Crisis, which was created prior to Moïse’s assassination. The Commission is a broad group of political parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) that came together to work collectively to rebuild the government. This presents an opportunity for a meaningful shift from foreign interference to true leadership of Haitian people.
What is your view on the postponement of elections and the constitutional referendum, and what are the prospects of democratic votes taking place?
In the current climate, elections are not the next step in addressing Haiti’s political crisis. Elections should not occur until the conditions for a fair, free and legitimate vote are met. The elections of the past 11 years demonstrate that they are not an automatic means of achieving representative democracy.
Today, there are many hurdles to holding elections. The first is one of governance: elections must be overseen by a governing body that has legitimacy, and that is respected by the Haitian people. It would be impossible for the de facto government to organise elections. The second is gang violence. It’s estimated that more than half of Port-au-Prince is under the control of gangs. When the provisional electoral council was preparing for elections a few months back, its staff could not access a number of voting centres due to gang control. Third, eligible Haitian voters should have voter ID cards.
The US government and others should affirm the right of the Haitian people to self-determination. The USA should neither insist on nor support elections without evidence of concrete measures to ensure that they are free, fair, inclusive and perceived as legitimate. Haitian CSOs and the Commission will indicate when the conditions exist for free, fair and legitimate elections.
Is there a migration crisis caused by the situation in Haiti? How can the challenges faced by Haitian migrants be addressed?
What we call the ‘migration crisis’ is a strong example of how US foreign policy and immigration policy towards Haiti have long been affected by anti-Black racism.
Many Haitians who left the country following the earthquake in 2010 first moved to South America. Many have subsequently left. The economies of Brazil and Chile worsened, and Haitian migrants encountered racism and a lack of economic opportunity. Families and individuals have travelled northward by foot, boat and bus towards the Mexico-USA border.
For many years now, the US government has not allowed Haitian migrants and other migrants to enter the USA. They are expelling people without an asylum interview – a ‘credible fear’ interview, which is required under international law – back to Haiti.
The US government must stop using Title 42, a public health provision, as a pretext to expel migrants. The US government should instead offer humanitarian assistance and support Haitian family reunification and relocation in the USA.
It is impossible to justify deportation to Haiti right now, for the same reasons that the US government has advised US citizens not to travel there. There are estimates of nearly 1,000 documented cases of kidnapping in 2021. Friends explain that anyone is at risk. Kidnappings are no longer targeted, but school kids and street merchants and pedestrians are being held hostage to demand money. The US government has not only declared Haiti unsafe for travel, but in May 2021, the US Department of Homeland Security designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status, allowing eligible Haitian nationals residing in the USA to apply to remain there because Haiti cannot safely repatriate its nationals.
The USA should halt deportations to Haiti. And the USA and other countries in the Americas must begin to recognise, address and repair the anti-Black discrimination that characterises their immigration policies.
What should the international community, and especially the USA, do to improve the situation?
First, the international community should take the lead of Haitian CSOs and engage in a serious and supportive way with the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. Daniel Foote, the US special envoy for Haiti, resigned in protest eight weeks into the job; he said that his colleagues at the State Department were not interested in supporting Haitian-led solutions. The USA should play the role of encouraging consensus building and facilitating conversations to move things forward without interfering.
Second, all deportations to Haiti must stop. They are not only in violation of international law. They are also highly immoral and unjust.
Foreigners, myself included, are not best placed to prescribe solutions in Haiti: instead, we must support those created by Haitian people and Haitian organisations. It is time for the Haitian people to decide on the path forward, and we need to actively support, and follow.
ITALY: ‘We anticipate hostility towards civil society working on human rights’
CIVICUS speaks about the recent Italian election with Oiza Q Obasuyi from the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD).
CILD is a national network of civil society organisations (CSOs) working to protect and expand civil rights and freedoms by running public campaigns for policy change, advocating with governments and international bodies and taking cases to court.
What are your main takeaways from the recent Italian election?
The first thing to note is that a significant number of people – one in three – did not vote. One big reason for this is the increasing lack of trust in political institutions. This is important to consider in the face of Giorgia Meloni’s claim that she won thanks to the vote of all Italian citizens – which is not true.
I personally think that left-wing parties have become increasingly distant from the masses, and especially the working class, which is now significantly underrepresented. The left should be working not only on civil rights but on social rights too: if the far right manages to convince even part of the working class to vote for it by using racist and anti-immigration propaganda, this means the left is not doing what it is supposed to do: campaigning for the social and civil rights of the worse-off, including working class people, low-wage earners, students, women and LGBTQI+ people.
We are experiencing an economic crisis that is affecting the lower classes deeply. Inequalities have become unbearable and political institutions keep ignoring protest demands, be they from the Insorgiamo (‘We are rising up’) movement for workers’ rights or Fridays For Future Italia,which continues to call out the government for its inaction on climate change.
In a context where there is no political force on the left reacting to these demands and promoting policies to protect and promote these basic rights, the fact that people have voted for a far-right candidate such as Giorgia Meloni shouldn’t surprise us.
How did civic space conditions evolve in the run-up to the election?
Hate speech and disinformation played a significant role during the campaign. Meloni’s entire propaganda is based on ultraconservative beliefs that she pushes by instrumentalising half-truths, a distortion of the facts and outright lies.
Even though she has said she would not repeal Law 194, which protects the right to abortion, Meloni has repeatedly joined so-called ‘pro-life’ conferences organised by ultra-catholic and conservative associations, along with her League party colleague Matteo Salvini. She has often stated that children need a father and a mother and that’s the only type of family that has the right to exist, to the detriment of LGBTQI+ couples who continue to fight to have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
To back her claims, Meloni often passes off prejudice as scientific fact and brings up conspiracy theories about ‘gay lobbies’ trying to indoctrinate children with their so-called ‘gender agenda’.
In addition, during her campaign Meloni referred to drugs and alcohol as ‘youth deviations’. I think she will use these issues as yet another way to curb citizens’ civil rights. This can be expected in the light of her framing of drug-related issues as criminal rather than, say, health issues, particularly when the people concerned are of foreign descent.
How significant is it that Giorgia Meloni downplayed her fascist heritage?
I don’t think that makes her less of a threat. She has strong links with Hungarian far-right president Viktor Orbán, who is well known for his racist and illegal anti-migrant policies that systematically push migrants back at the border and his hostility towards LGBTQI+ people and more generally, towards any CSO working for the protection of human rights.
Meloni’s entire propaganda was based on similar grounds, with a strong sense of nationalism and conservatism that derives from her party’s fascist past – not to mention her belief in the so-called ‘great replacement’ theory, a conspiracy theory that believes there is an ongoing plan to bring in more and more immigrants until white Europeans disappear from the continent. That is why, according to her, immigration must be stopped.
How do you think the advances made by the far right will impact on the rights of excluded groups?
I think we will face a situation in which it will be extremely hard to push for positive laws and policies that protect everybody’s social and civil rights.
Italy is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not have a law that specifically protects LGBTQI+ rights. A proposed bill against homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and lesbophobia, popularly known as DDL Zan, was not passed.
There is also a possibility that migrants’ right to request asylum could be further restricted, given Meloni’s hostility towards immigration and the current situation with the decreti sicurezza – decrees on security and immigration – issued by Matteo Salvini when he was Minister of the Interior between 2018 and 2019.
Even though the current Minister of the Interior introduced ‘special protection’ for migrants, humanitarian protection was abolished and access to accommodation was extremely restricted by Salvini. His successor made some revisions to his policies, but various elements continue to raise concerns. The decision to allow the revocation of Italian citizenship of foreign-born Italians deemed a threat to national security was not questioned, although the process was amended.
For 30 years, civil society has demanded citizenship law reform to guarantee access to Italian citizenship for people of foreign descent who were born or raised in Italy. There are over 800,000 such people, many of them children. They are de facto Italian citizens, but they’re not legally recognised as such. Although there have been left-wing governments that could have pushed toward reform, we still have an obsolete law based on jus sanguinis, or citizenship by blood, and it is very unlikely that a Meloni-led government would change that.
As for our work, we anticipate hostility towards CSOs working on human rights, if the government goes down the same road as her ally Viktor Orbán did in Hungary.
What kind of domestic and international support does Italian civil society need to continue doing its work?
We need active support from European and international civil society as external observers, especially when international institutions are involved and called to scrutinise potential human rights violations and civic space restrictions.
Economic support is also important: during their previous government, right-wing parties proposed to economically support police forces through 5x1000 funds, which is one of the fundamental ways in which CSOs fund their work, thanks to part of the money citizens voluntarily donate when filing their tax declarations. If this proposal becomes reality, then many CSOs will suffer budget cuts.
Civil society must also stay vigilant on women’s reproductive rights, under the constant threat of new patriarchal and sexist laws to either make access to abortion more difficult or ban it completely. We must also ensure that civil rights protection goes hand in hand with social rights protection: poverty, unemployment and low wages are major problems that affect many vulnerable communities.
Civic space in Italy is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Leaders Must Put Migration Back on Global Agenda
By Danny Sriskandarajah
There was much excitement at 2016’s special United Nations summit on migration and refugees. This was the first such summit of world leaders and the declaration at the end of it committed to finding a new and more comprehensive approach to human mobility, to be agreed in the form of a new Global Compact in September 2018.
Read on: Diplomatic Courier
MIGRATION : « La propagation du COVID-19 n’est pas une excuse pour traiter les personnes vulnérables avec plus de violence »
CIVICUS s’entretient avec Maddalena Avon, coordinatrice de projet au Centre d’études sur la paix (CPS), sur la situation des migrants et des réfugiés en Europe dans le contexte de la pandémie et sur la manière dont la société civile répond à la pression croissante des gouvernements européens hostiles aux frontières.
Le CPS est une organisation de la société civile (OSC) qui promeut la non-violence et le changement social par l’éducation, la recherche, le plaidoyer, les campagnes et l’activisme. Fondée en 1996, elle travaille dans trois domaines : l’asile, l’intégration et la sécurité humaine ; l’éducation à la paix et l’affirmation de la non-violence ; et la lutte contre les inégalités. Le CPS est un membre actif du Border Violence Monitoring Network, un réseau indépendant d’OSC basé principalement dans les Balkans et en Grèce, qui surveille les violations des droits humains aux frontières extérieures de l’Union européenne et plaide pour la fin de la violence à l’encontre des personnes déplacées.
Quelles ont été les principales tendances migratoires en Europe, et plus particulièrement dans les Balkans, pendant la pandémie ?
Le paysage de l’accès à l’asile a radicalement changé depuis l’entrée en vigueur des restrictions mises en place en réponse à la pandémie. Le Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) avait déjà publié des rapports faisant référence à l’asile comme à un ensemble de droits érodés, mais la procédure régulière pour les demandes de protection internationale a été davantage remise en question dans le contexte de l’urgence sanitaire de ces derniers mois.
Premièrement, les mesures de refoulement persistantes aux frontières continuent de priver les personnes de l’accès à la protection internationale, les États procédant à des expulsions collectives. Deuxièmement, les décisions gouvernementales de suspendre ou de fermer les bureaux d’asile sans offrir d’alternative ou de recours efficace ont placé les réfugiés et autres migrants dans une situation de flou et de risque de refoulement. De même, la mise en œuvre de mesures anti-COVID-19 a donné la possibilité à des pays comme la Croatie, la Grèce et la Hongrie de restreindre davantage l’accès aux protections garanties au niveau international.
Au milieu de l’escalade de l’épidémie de COVID-19, l’Union européenne (UE) a lancé son plan d’action conjoint pour les droits humains. Cependant, l’esprit de cette déclaration diverge fortement de la réalité sur le terrain. En particulier, les violations des droits fondamentaux par les États membres de l’UE et les pays tiers qui ont conclu divers accords avec l’UE sur la migration, l’asile et la sécurité des frontières, ainsi que des systèmes de camps financés, se poursuivent. Au lieu d’aider les communautés vulnérables en cette période de précarité, les politiques et les réglementations ont permis le renforcement des frontières de la plupart des États membres, ce qui a eu pour effet d’éroder encore davantage les droits à l’asile, à des procédures régulières et à un traitement humain.
Selon un récent rapport du BVMN, en mars et avril 2020, la Slovénie a connu une diminution du nombre de franchissements irréguliers de la frontière par rapport aux deux premiers mois de 2021 et à la même période en 2019, ce qui s’est traduit par un nombre beaucoup plus faible de personnes détenues dans les postes de police en raison de franchissements irréguliers de la frontière. Toutefois, le nombre d’expulsions collectives vers la Croatie est resté constamment élevé. Début 2020, pendant l’épidémie de COVID-19 et les restrictions qui ont suivi, la Slovénie a continué à refuser systématiquement le droit d’asile et a utilisé son accord de réadmission avec la Croatie - qui l’autorise à remettre des personnes à la police croate s’il existe des preuves qu’elles ont franchi illégalement la frontière au cours des dernières 48 heures - pour expulser un grand nombre de personnes, bien que l’accord de réadmission ne s’applique pas si la personne a demandé l’asile ou est un demandeur d’asile potentiel. Elle a continué à le faire en pleine connaissance du risque élevé de torture et de nouvelles expulsions illégales vers la Bosnie-Herzégovine.
En Croatie, comme ailleurs, la pandémie a changé beaucoup de choses, mais certains éléments, comme le régime d’expulsion, sont malheureusement restés les mêmes. La seule différence est que ces expulsions collectives violentes attirent désormais moins l’attention, car tous les regards sont tournés vers la pandémie et les observateurs des droits humains n’ont pas été autorisés à rester sur le terrain en raison de restrictions sanitaires. Les expulsions et les violences aux frontières ont persisté : dans un cas sur les centaines documentés par le BVMN, un groupe comprenant une personne gravement blessée et un mineur a été battu à coups de matraque par des officiers croates, qui ont également brûlé leurs vêtements, et le groupe a été renvoyé en Bosnie-Herzégovine.
Un phénomène relativement nouveau dans les pratiques de refoulement est le marquage de groupes de personnes avec des bombes de peinture orange, comme le rapporte No Name Kitchen, une organisation de base et membre du BVMN qui fournit une assistance directe aux personnes en déplacement dans les villes frontalières le long de la route des Balkans. Les refoulements en série se sont également poursuivis de la Slovénie à la Croatie, renvoyant les migrants sur le même chemin par lequel ils sont arrivés.
Les rapports faisant état d’une brutalité accrue dans le contexte des refoulements sont inquiétants, compte tenu de l’autonomie accrue que les autorités étatiques ont acquise grâce à la pandémie. Les refoulements sont illégaux et la propagation de la COVID-19 n’est pas une excuse pour traiter les personnes vulnérables avec plus de violence.
Comment le CPS et le BVMN répondent-ils à ces tendances ?
La valeur du travail effectué par le BVMN réside dans l’interconnexion de différentes méthodes : le travail de terrain, qui comprend l’établissement de relations de confiance avec les personnes situées dans les zones frontalières, la collecte de témoignages, et le travail de plaidoyer, qui consiste à demander clairement aux institutions de rendre compte de certaines actions. Le travail juridique est également essentiel lorsque les victimes de violations des droits humains veulent réclamer justice. Chaque membre du BVMN présente une compétence propre dans l’une ou plusieurs de ces méthodes de travail, et notre force collective est de les combiner toutes dans une approche holistique.
Au sein du réseau, le CPS mène des recherches qui alimentent nos efforts de sensibilisation et de plaidoyer sur l’accès au système d’asile, la protection des droits humains des réfugiés, les comportements policiers illégaux, la criminalisation de la solidarité et l’intégration, en mettant l’accent sur l’emploi et l’éducation.
En termes d’intégration, deux de nos grandes réussites ont été le Danube Compass, un outil web qui comprend toutes les informations pertinentes pour l’intégration des migrants et des réfugiés dans la société croate, et notre programme d’éducation non formelle pour les demandeurs d’asile, « Let's Talk about Society » (Parlons de la société), qui offre aux nouveaux membres de notre communauté une introduction à la société et aux institutions croates, les informe sur leurs droits et encourage leur participation active dans la société.
Au sein du réseau, le CPS est un acteur juridique fort, puisque nous avons jusqu’à présent déposé 12 plaintes pénales contre des auteurs inconnus en uniforme de police. Grâce à un contentieux stratégique, nous avons empêché une extradition et réussi à déposer deux plaintes contre la République de Croatie devant la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme. Grâce à notre travail de plaidoyer, plusieurs institutions internationales et européennes, dont l’Agence des Nations unies pour les réfugiés, ont commencé à remettre en question et à condamner les pratiques des autorités croates.
En raison de notre dénonciation publique des pratiques illégales à l’égard des réfugiés, nous avons subi de fortes pressions et avons été interdits d’accès et de travail dans les centres d’asile. Cela a rendu notre travail plus difficile, mais n’a pas compromis notre autonomie.
Pensez-vous que des progrès ont été réalisés pour tenir Frontex, l’agence européenne des frontières, responsable de son incapacité à protéger les droits humains ?
Frontex a fait face à de graves allégations de violations des droits humains de la part de divers acteurs et institutions, et la société civile s’est unie autour de multiples campagnes et actions sur la question, notamment #DefundFrontex. Avec le soutien de 22 OSC et réseaux de la société civile, dont le BVMN, cette campagne appelle à la suppression de l’agence et à la réorientation de son budget vers la création d’un programme civil européen de sauvetage en mer géré et financé par les gouvernements.
Le principal problème est que Frontex opère dans une zone grise juridique et est considérée comme n’ayant aucune responsabilité pour ses actions : la responsabilité incombe toujours à l’État membre dans lequel Frontex opère. Les règles de l’agence sont rédigées de telle manière qu’elles lui permettent de ne pas avoir à rendre de comptes. Cependant, nous constatons de petits pas vers un changement dans cette direction, par exemple avec l’implication active du bureau du Médiateur européen.
Comment la société civile peut-elle faire pression sur l’UE pour que celle-ci étende son engagement en faveur des droits humains aux migrants et aux réfugiés, et comment peut-elle encourager les États membres à respecter leurs droits ?
L’un des moyens que les membres du BVMN ont trouvé pour unir des forces multiples et faire entendre leurs voix sur des demandes clés est de construire des réseaux transfrontaliers. Nous sommes convaincus que l’implication active de la société civile dans chaque zone frontalière, pays et village peut faire une réelle différence quant à l’influence des citoyens. Il est très important de parler haut et fort des droits des réfugiés et des migrants. Il est également important de relier une variété de luttes qui sont fortement interconnectées et se déroulent au-delà des frontières, comme les luttes liées au changement climatique et aux droits des femmes.
L’espace civique en Croatie est classé « rétréci » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
Contactez le Centre d’études sur la paix (CPS) via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@CMSZagreb sur Twitter.
Contactez le Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) sur sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@Border_Violence sur Twitter.
MIGRATION: ‘The spread of COVID-19 is no excuse to confront vulnerable people with more violence’
CIVICUS speaks with Maddalena Avon, project coordinator at the Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) about the situation of migrants and refugees in Europe under the pandemic and the ways in which civil society is responding to increasing border pushbacks from hostile European governments.
CPS is a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes non-violence and social change through education, research, advocacy, campaigning and activism. Founded in 1996, it works in three areas: asylum, integration and human security; peace education and non-violence affirmation; and combating inequalities. CPS is an active member of the Border Violence Monitoring Network, an independent network of CSOs based mostly in the Balkans and Greece, monitoring human rights violations at the external borders of the European Union and advocating to stop the violence against people on the move.
What have been the key trends in migration in Europe, and specifically in the Balkans, under the pandemic?
The landscape of asylum access has changed drastically since pandemic restrictions came into force. The Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) had already reported on asylum as an eroded set of rights, but due process for international protection claims has been further challenged in recent months under the health emergency.
Firstly, persistent pushbacks from borders continue to deny people access to claim international protection, with states performing collective expulsion. Secondly, government decisions to pause or close asylum offices with no effective alternative or remedy have placed refugees and other migrants in an effective limbo and at risk of pushback. Accordingly, the development of COVID-19 measures has allowed countries such as Croatia, Greece and Hungary to further restrict internationally mandated access to protection.
In the midst of the escalating COVID-19 outbreak, the European Union (EU) launched its Joint Action Plan for Human Rights. However, the intention of this communication exhibits acute divergence from the reality on the ground. Most notably, violations of fundamental rights continue by EU member states and non-EU countries that have various EU agreements on migration, asylum and border security, alongside funded camp systems. Rather than assisting vulnerable communities in this precarious period, policy and guidance have allowed the strengthening of borders across a majority of member states to erode further the rights to asylum, due process and humane treatment.
According to a recent report by the BVMN, in March and April 2020 Slovenia saw a decrease in the number of irregular border crossings compared to the first two months of 2021 and the same period in 2019, and this was reflected in the much lower number of people detained at police stations due to irregular border crossings. The trend of collective expulsions to Croatia, however, remained consistently high. In early 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent restrictions, Slovenia continued to systematically deny asylum rights and used its readmission agreement with Croatia – which allows it to hand people over to the Croatian police if there is proof that they illegally crossed the border within the last 48 hours – to deport large numbers of people, although the readmission agreement does not apply if the person has asked for asylum or is a potential asylum seeker. It has continued to do so despite full knowledge of the high risk of torture and further illegal pushback to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Croatia, as elsewhere, the pandemic has changed many things, but some aspects, such as its pushback regime, have unfortunately stayed the same. The only difference is that these violent collective expulsions now attract less attention, as all eyes are on the pandemic and human rights monitors have not been allowed in the field due to health restrictions. Pushbacks and violence at borders have persisted: in one case out of the hundreds documented by the BVMN, a group including a severely injured person and a minor was beaten with batons by Croatian officers, who also burnt their clothes, and the group was pushed back into Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A relatively new development in pushback practices is the tagging of groups with orange spray paint, as reported by No Name Kitchen, a grassroots organisation and member of the BVMN that provides direct assistance to people on the move in border towns along the Balkan Route. Chain pushbacks from Slovenia via Croatia, with migrants being sent back the same way they came, have also continued.
Reports of increased brutality during pushbacks are worrying due to the increased autonomy that state authorities have gained under the pandemic. Pushbacks are illegal and the spread of COVID-19 is no excuse to confront vulnerable people with even more violence.
How are the CPS and the BVMN responding to these trends?
The value of the work done by the BVMN lies in the interconnection of a variety of methods: field work, including trustful contact with people in border areas, testimony collection and advocacy work with clear demands being presented to institutions to hold them accountable for certain actions. Legal work is also essential, when people who have survived human rights violations want to seek justice. Each of the BVMN’s partners has its own strength in one or more of these working methods, and our collective strength is to combine all of them with a comprehensive approach.
Within the network, CPS conducts research that feeds into our awareness-raising and advocacy efforts on access to the asylum system, protection of refugees’ human rights, illegal conduct of the police, the criminalisation of solidarity and integration, with a focus on employment and education.
On integration, two of our big successes has been the Danube Compass, a web tool including all information relevant to the integration of refugees and migrants into Croatian society, and our non-formal education programme for asylum seekers, Let’s Talk about Society, which introduces our new community members to Croatian society and institutions, informs them of their rights and encourages their active participation in society.
Within the network, CPS is a strong legal actor, as we have so far filed 12 criminal complaints against unknown perpetrators in police uniforms. Through strategic litigation, we prevented an extradition and succeeded in filing two lawsuits against the Republic of Croatia at the European Court of Human Rights. As a result of our advocacy, several EU and international institutions, including the United Nations Refugee Agency, started questioning and condemning the practices of the Croatian authorities.
As a consequence of our public exposure of illegal practices towards refugees, we experienced a lot of pressure, and were banned from entering and working in asylum centres. This made our work more difficult but has not compromised our autonomy.
Do you see any progress in holding Frontex, the European border agency, accountable for its failure to protect human rights?
Frontex has faced severe allegations of human rights violations coming from different actors and institutions, and civil society has come together around multiple campaigns and actions on the matter, including #DefundFrontex. Supported by 22 CSOs and networks, including the BVMN, this campaign calls for the agency to be defunded and its budget redirected towards building a government-led and funded European civil sea rescue programme.
The main challenge is that Frontex operates in a grey legal zone and is perceived to have no responsibility for its actions – responsibility always lies with the member state in which Frontex operates. The agency’s rules are made in a way that allows for it to be largely unaccountable. However, we are seeing small steps towards a change in that regard, for example with the active engagement of the European Ombudsman.
How can civil society put pressure on the EU so that its commitment to human rights extends to migrants and refugees, and how can it encourage member states to respect their rights?
One of the ways that BVMN members found to bring together multiple strengths and be louder on key demands is the building of transborder networks. We believe that the active involvement of civil society in each border area, country and village can make a real difference on the public’s influence. Being loud on the rights of refugees and migrants is extremely important. It’s also important to connect a variety of struggles that are highly interconnected and take place across borders, such as struggles on climate change and women’s rights.
Civic space in Croatia is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with the Centre for Peace Studies through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@CMSZagreb on Twitter.
Get in touch with the Border Violence Monitoring Network through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@Border_Violence on Twitter.
MIGRATION: ‘The way our countries are treating refugees –this isn't the Europe we want’
CIVICUS speaks to Giorgia Linardi, spokesperson for Sea-Watch in Italy, and Julian Pahlke, chairperson of Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Rescues’) and former crew member of the Iuventa ship. Sea-Watch and Jugend Rettet both conduct civil search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Central Mediterranean, a route by which migrants and refugees seek to enter Europe. In the face of an ongoing humanitarian crisis, they provide emergency relief, push for rescue operations by European institutions and stand up for legal escape routes and the removal of the root causes of migration and flight.
When did you decide to organise to help migrants and refugees, and why?
Julian Pahlke (JP): Jugend Rettet was founded in early 2016 by a couple of young people in Berlin. As young Europeans, we couldn’t let Europe become a mass grave. Ours is such a rich continent. Why would we leave less fortunate people to drown at sea? We might be geographically disconnected from the Mediterranean, but as Europeans we cannot be disconnected from the issue, because if you look at the way our countries are treating migrants and refugees, this is not the Europe we want.
QATAR: ‘Labour reforms need to continue after the World Cup is over’
CIVICUS speaks aboutthe World Cup in Qatar with Vani Saraswathi, editor-at-large and director of projects at Migrant-Rights.org andthe author ofStories of Origin: The Invisible Lives of Migrants in the Gulf.
Migrant-Rights.org is aGulf-basedcivil society organisation that works to advance the rights of migrant workers in Gulf countries. It documents migrant narratives and promotes local discussion and campaigns to bring changes in policies, practices and attitudes towards migrant workers.
What human rights violations have you documented in construction works for the 2022 Qatar World Cup?
The economy of Qatar is heavily dependent on migrant workers, who make up over 93 per cent of the labour market. The construction sector iseven moreheavily dependent on migrant labour, and due to the nature of the work exploitation and rights violations are much more visible than in other sectors. This also happens in the hospitality sector, domestic work and fishing and agriculture, but tends to be more hidden.
Since 2000, Qatar’s population has grown very fast, from 700,000 people in 1999 to 1.7 million in 2010 to close to three million now. The infrastructure and the services needed to host such a large population have not kept pace: people were being recruited quickly, but support systems were not built fast enough.
Rights violations have shifted over the years from poor accommodation to crowded accommodation to rampant wage theft. As the scale of construction operations grew, corporations resorted to subcontracting, with worker recruitment, safety and welfare left in the hands of subcontractors and no effective legal mechanism for oversight, which enabled corruption.
Unfortunately, the narrative on corruption around worker recruitment focuses on origin countries because for one of the richest countries in the world it is easier to blame poorer countries than take responsibility for the problem. The fact that many of the kickbacks are filling the pockets of procurement officers and businesspeople in destination countries is overlooked.
This is the environment in which abuse takes place. Workers are entering the country already in debt and often do not receive the salary they were promised.
Certain steps have been taken to fix this issue. The Qatar Visa Centre, for instance, takes care of the last mile of recruitment so workers sign their contract and undergo medical testing before they come. Fees are also being paid in Qatar. But the bulk of the exploitation happens on the job, when people are not paid what they were promised, or they are made to work overtime with no extra pay. This is not being properly addressed.
Migrant workers’main concern is to be able to send money home, and as long as they get theirmoney they are often willing to tolerate many abuses: social isolation, cultural exclusion, terrible living conditions and lack of access to justice. These issues are ongoing.
On other issues, such as workplace safety and heat stress, Qatar has been working on upping standards. There is still a lot to be done, but in the context of the Gulf, summer midday work bans and heat stress regulations are a big step forward. But it is not sufficient.
A pending issue is health deterioration. Most construction workers are recruited when they are in their early 20s and usually undergo stringent medical tests to ensure they are in best health. But their health deteriorates quickly post-arrival. Due to the inhospitable and unhygienic living and working conditions, they often develop various comorbidities including high blood glucose levels and hypertension. There are also several cases of unexplained deaths of previously healthy, young men, but their deaths are attributed to natural causes or cardiac arrests, and Qatar has failed to investigate the real causes. In contrast to those who have accidents, whose injuries are assessed and who may get a disability allowance or insurance, those developing severe health conditions receive no compensation. Instead, they suffer the consequences when their productivity diminishes, and the burden is passed on totheir familiesand origin countries.
Do you think recent labour reforms will have a positive effect?
One of the main reforms has been the removal of the requirement for foreign workers to apply for an exit permit to leave Qatar. The other Gulf countries, except for Saudi Arabia, had already done the same, allowing for some freedom of movement.
Another important change has been the removal of the requirement of a no objection certificate. This means that all workers, including domestic workers, are allowed to change jobs at any point in their labour contract. This measure triggered a lot ofpushback.
A new online system was set up that allowed people to search and apply for jobs. It initially went well, but employers started pushing back when they saw the prospects of an exodus and feared losing control of their workers. The Shura Council, the legislative body, also weighed in, following which Qatar introduced a new requirement: to go through the online process to change jobs, workers must submit a resignation letter stamped by their employer. This became a de facto no objection certificate. There are strong power dynamics at play. For instance, there have been cases of workers getting approval to change jobs after not having been paid for months, changing jobs and then having their authorisation withdrawn and made to go back.
A non-discriminatory minimum wage has also been introduced. Although pretty low, it is still a minimum wage. The basic monthly salary amounts to approximately US$275, or around US$500 if thecompany does notprovide accommodation and food. It is not much in a country with a per capita GDP of above US$60,000, and hence applies only to low-income migrants from Asia and Africa.
Additionally, across Gulf countries there is a system in place for all workers to be paid electronically. It’s aimed at preventing non-payment but has repeatedly failed to do so. The system should spot non-payment cases early on, rectify them and hold the employer accountable, but it does not. Non-payment cases typically arise when workers who haven’t been paid for several months file a complaint. Setting aside the problem of domestic workers, a persistent problem of non-payment results from smaller companies at the bottom of the supply chain being unable to pay if they are not paid on time by their client.
The government of Qatar also set up a work insurance fund to protect workers when employers fail to pay them. When a worker’s complaint is resolved by either a court or the dispute settlements committee, a mechanism that handles workers’complaints, the fund must pay. There are certain criteria to qualify and there is a cap on how much a worker can receive that is lower than what most of them are owed. Itdoesn’tmatch the scale of abuse that happens, but it’s still something.
Finally, management-worker joint committees have been allowed within companies. This was presented as either a step towards allowing unionisation, or a substitute for it. But the power dynamics are so skewed there is very little scope for collective bargaining, and they do not remotely resemble unions, even if the joint committees have elected representatives.
What role has civil society played in raising awareness of these and other rights violations?
A transnational advocacy network comprising mostly trade unions and international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch was activated following Qatar’s designation as host of the 2022 World Cup.
The World Cup was a good entry point as it forced Qatar to allow for investigations. The network obtained access and produced reports. A lot of international journalists came in. This is something we must recognise, because other countries that held big events, such as theDubai Expo or the Formula One race in Bahrain,didn’t allow this kind of scrutiny.
But Qatar hasn’t always managed the attention well and sometimes got too defensive or complained that its efforts to open up and allow criticism were underappreciated. But while the government engaged with foreign or international trade unions speakingon behalf of Asian and African workers, it never allowed criticism to be voiced internally and never allowed those workers to organise. The same goes for civil society.
At the local level there are charitable institutions but there is not a rights-oriented civil society. The closest there is to this are organisations such as Migrant-Rights.org, working regionally. To nurture civilsociety, space would need to exist to speak about women’s rights, LGBTQI+ rights, citizenship rights and many other issues people are grappling with but cannot currently express. But the government knows this is a Pandora’s box. The most it will do is selectively open up some space for issues that are less threatening, such as the situation of migrants, as long as local activism around it remains suppressed.
The situation is different from what happens in Bahrain and Kuwait, where despite harsh oppression,there are still independent voices rising and fighting back. People are being jailed or forced into exile but there is still a civil society vibrancy thatdoesn’t exist in the open in Qatar. It is probably present behind closed doors and in smaller spaces. People are talking about these issues, but they are not speaking aloud. Qatar,however, recently held its first elections for the Shura Council, so things may be about to change.
Has there been any accountability for violations of workers’rights?
The problem in Qatar is that laws have been enforced and reforms have been implemented only in response to criticism. This time around, it was in response to the attention brought by international organisations under the spotlight of the World Cup. The problem with this kind of response is that it tends to stay on paper because it is not the result of dialogue with the key stakeholders, namely employers and workers, and an understanding of the system on the ground.
Enforcement is difficult because local employers are pushing back: they feel that workers’rights come at a cost that is being paid from their pockets. The government has made no attempt to talk to stakeholders on the ground, and it won’t be able to implement any reform without them. Qatar is a tiny country. We’re talkingabout a handful of extremely powerful families who are in business, in the security apparatus, in the Shura Council, everywhere. Some of their companies have a proven record of poor practices, including using short-term visas and not giving end-of-service payments, and they continue to be awarded new contracts over and over. They are not held to account.
What needs to be done so the rights of migrant workers in Qatar are not forgotten when the World Cup ends?
The World Cup is just one event and a starting point for limitless business ambitions. If you look at industry reports, it is clear that large-scale infrastructure projects are going to continue. I only hope that those who shone the spotlight on Qatardidn’t do it because of the sport, but because they really care about migrant workers. Because if that is the case, they should continue promoting reforms and monitoring their effective implementation after the World Cup is over.
Qatar needs to ensure workers get their wages and fair compensation and that nobody leaves the country in distress.Otherwise rights violations will continue to happen, and it’s not right. I hope the government at least realises that even when the World Cup is over, itdoesn’t need that kind of bad publicity.
Civic space in Qatar is rated‘repressed’by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Sign on! Global Civil Society Declaration on Climate-Induced Migration
At the conclusion of International Civil Society Week 2017 (ICSW) on December 7th, more than 700 civil society leaders and activists from over 100 countries have called for climate change to be formally recognised as a primary driver of migration. The call comes just days after Donald Trump announced that he is withdrawing the United States from the United Nations Global Compact on Migration.
The Global Civil Society Declaration on Climate Induced Displacement was first presented to delegates of ICSW, held in Suva, Fiji, by global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Pacific Islands Association of Non Governmental Organisations (PIANGO). This is the first time in more than 20 years of convening that ICSW was held in the Pacific region, where rising sea levels are already displacing communities.
The declaration calls on the international community to commit to protecting the human rights of all persons, regardless of their migratory status and fulfill the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.
“The UN global compact process is a critical opportunity to develop a consensus position on how the international community should promote rights-based migration and protect refugees,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “We are urging policymakers to protect the rights and dignity of individuals who are being forced to move, and promote the cultural rights of the communities affected,“ Said Sriskandarajah.
Organisations which have contributed to the declaration include the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, the Pacific Islands Development Forum, Oxfam Pacific, 350.org, ACT Alliance and CIVICUS, among others.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Spread the word
Share the message on social media:
.@Pacific_2030, @PIDF01, @oxfampacific, @350, @ACTAlliance, CIVICUS & many others, launch Declaration on Climate Induced Displacement. Read the full declaration and sign on here: http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI
More than 700 civil society leaders and activists from over 100 countries call for #climatechange to be recognised as a key driver of #migration! Join the call here: http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI #ICSW2017
I just joined others around the world in signing on to the Climate Declaration! You can too: http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI
.@CIVICUSSG calls on policymakers to protect the rights & dignity of individuals who are being forced to move, and protect the cultural rights of the communities affected. Join the call http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI
Rising seas and extreme weather are leading many to have no option but to abandon their homes! Sign on to the Climate Declaration and call on policy makers to protect climate refugees http://bit.ly/2B6eVDI
Find out more:
Check out these stories by journalists and delegates attending ICSW.
Al Jazeera: Ex-New Zealand PM: Manus refugees deserve humanity
Open Democracy: Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US
Inter Press News: Migrants Deserve Dignity” says CIVICUS While Trump Pulls out of Proposed Migrant Compact
Open Democracy: Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US
Reuters: Where is the justice?' ask climate 'refugees', sidelined from global deal
Fiji Times: Call for solidarity on migration
Radio New Zealand: Climate-induced migration critical issue for Pacific NGOs
Want to know more about what happened at International Civil Society Week 2017? Visit the live blog archive.
The Coming Wave of Climate Displacement
By Kumi Naidoo
Not since 1951 has the international community produced a treaty to protect the legal status of the world's refugees. Now, two agreements are currently under discussion at the United Nations, and each offers a rare opportunity to protect global migrants from the biggest source of displacement today.
Read on: Project Syndicate
The two borderless challenges of our time: Migration and climate change
Civil society response to the Zero Draft of the UN´s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration
There are over a quarter billion migrants and refugees in the world. Over 5,000 died last year on their dangerous journeys. The United Nations has been moved to act.
Governments are currently negotiating a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The agreement is meant to protect the rights of those displaced and help address the root economic, environmental and social drivers that are compelling people to leave their communities and countries.
Last week, the UN released its draft agreement and will have until December to negotiate the final details. A key area where the document falls short is on commitments to tackle the primary causes of migration. A stated aim of the Global Compact is to “mitigate the adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin”. However, the current text lacks actionable commitments to control the numerous man-made forces underlying global mass migration.
The reasons are different for every migrant and diaspora, but we know that natural disasters are the number one cause of internal and international displacement. With rising sea levels, desertification and extreme weather events, climate action must be a part of any meaningful agreement.
"Climate induced displacement is upon us. Coastal communities are being evacuated and relocated the world over.” Said Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non Governmental Organisations. “Here in sea locked countries of the Pacific Ocean, disappearance of our island homes is imminent".
To protect the growing number of climate migrants, a necessary starting place for the compact is to reaffirm the importance of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and accelerate efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, instead of the more conservative and ambiguous target to keep the world “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Missing just one of these targets will lead to millions of people being displaced. The United Nations´ climate science panel (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) gauges that the half a degree gap in warming “amounts to a greater likelihood of drought, flooding, resource depletion, conflict and forced migration”. Climate models show us that the additional 0.5°C would further raise sea levels by 10 centimeters and cut crop yields by half across the tropics.
From Fiji to Trinidad and Tobago, from Bangladesh to Morocco, civil society groups are calling on their governments to make climate mitigation a fundamental pillar of the Global Compact on Migration. Over 400 civil society groups at International Civil Society Week (Fiji, December) signed a joint declaration on climate induced displacement, outlining key demands for the Global Compact. Among other recommendations, we are urging the UN to address the causes and consequences of migration, including:
- Recognize that communities must have key human rights like food, water, housing and health protected to reduce the necessity of migration.
- Commit to protect those who are most vulnerable to climate displacement.
- Ensure that those most vulnerable to climate displacement are able to participate in the design and governance of the Global Compact.
The upcoming multi-stakeholder consultations on 21 February and 21 May at UN Headquarters will provide civil society with the opportunity to raise the ambition of the Global Compact and to help ensure meaningful action is taken to reduce the man-made causes of migration and incorporate key recommendations put forth in the joint civil society declaration.